To my daughter, on International Women’s Day.

Dear daughter,

At nearly two-years-old, I appreciate you have no idea why mummy chooses to get into her car every day and drive off, leaving you waving frantically on the doorstep until you can no longer see me. I know that you refuse to give me cuddles and kisses until the very last minute because you so desperately just want me to stay with you and play together – and doing so means saying ‘goodbye’. I love watching you chase my car down the road, seeing your beaming smile and hearing your fading giggles, but my heart hurts every time you’re out of sight.

Your excited squeals of “mammmaaaa” when I walk in the door at the end of a busy day of work reveal to me day-in, day-out, just how much you’ve missed my presence. And baby girl, I’ve missed you too. So very, very much. I’ve thought about you and what you’re doing so frequently – looked at the pictures I am sent of you, watched flashes of videos in between meetings, and stolen glimpses of the photos I have of you sat on my desk. I’ve told stories to colleagues of all the funny things you’ve said and done, reminding me of our happy times.

I know you don’t understand why mummy is often on her phone, or tapping on her laptop, or why she sometimes has to go into the office at the weekend. I know it’s impossible to get your head around – but also, it’s all you’ve ever known since you were born. You in one arm, my laptop in the other. I know you don’t care about my work, and why should you? You just want us to make playdough shapes, to bake cornflake cakes together, to build big towers, to sing and dance and laugh, to play on the swings, to scoot down the road while you go fast, to look for birds and shout at passing dogs. I want all that too – so desperately much, and I value every moment we get together doing these things at the weekend.

It would have been so easy to give up on everything to be with you. I don’t need to work; daddy could have paid our bills on his wage. We could’ve spent all day, every day together. I’m sure you would have loved that. However, my darling girl, although it may not always feel it, I really am doing all of this for you, so that one day, you can see through my actions all that you are capable of as a woman. People ask me what my “why” is, and it’s you. You are my inspiration, who I look to for courage and strength every day, even at my lowest.

I want to show you what you can achieve when you have a fire in your heart and an intelligent, ambitious, determined spirit. I want to show you how important it is to hold on to your passions and identity throughout all the stages of your life, even if so many people will tell you that you’re doing the wrong thing and try to make you feel guilty.

I want to show you how important it is for your mental health to do things that challenge you and grow you, and to help you realise that you don’t need to feel bad if motherhood isn’t the only thing that defines who you are. I want you to see that you don’t have to give up on all that you have worked so hard for, and all that you have the potential to become, just because you also want to start a family.

You see, for so much of your life as a young girl, you will be made to feel like you are an equal to the boys who you are growing up alongside. You won’t see any differences between you and them (aside from the obvious), because you will know that you can run as fast as them, throw as far as them, read as well as them, work out fractions as quickly… nothing will feel impossible. As your mummy, I will always guide you to know how capable you are and will try to give you the confidence to be the absolute best version of yourself you can be, just like my mum did with me. I hope you will push yourself to do so.

However, one day, it will hit you. It might be a random, nondescript day. You’ll be stirring your teabag in your cup, aimlessly thinking about life to while away the time as your tea brews. As you start to think about motherhood, and all the wonderful new changes this will bring, you will suddenly realise how prohibiting this can be on women. You will wonder what the point was of all the achievements you have gained, and all the intelligence you have gleaned, if you’re now expected to just sit at home and look after a baby, but do nothing more. You will question why you bothered educating yourself to such a high standard, if you weren’t going to ever use it to its full potential. 

It is for this reason that I want to show you that you can be both a mother and a businesswoman – or whatever other career path you choose to take in life. Yes, it will involve sacrifices; and no, it won’t be easy. You’ll feel crippling guilt and exhaustion on an unhuman level. But if you have a dream, I want to show you through my actions what is possible, so you never question whether you can achieve it and so you can see what you are capable of as a woman – even if you are a woman who decides to become a mum. You will realise that you have strengths so deep within you that you never knew they were there.

And I will be a better mum to you because of it, even if it means we have to miss out on some time together. I’ve learnt so much in the last two years – on confidence, self-discipline, personal growth, strength, resilience, acceptance, stress management – that I know will all ensure I can give you the absolute best upbringing as a result. I will be able to teach you all the lessons I have learnt, just as my mum passed on her life lessons, and my nan did so for her daughter too. And I promise, I won’t miss your special moments. I’ll be there cheering you on so loudly from the side-lines at sports day, or assembly, or swimming.

Hopefully, through the decisions I am making, I can also start to change the status quo for women, even on just a small level with those I spend time around. No one ever questions my male colleagues about the fact they are at work, even though they’re parents of small children like me. No one ever asks them if they feel guilty, or whether their family were okay with them choosing to work. You see, society doesn’t care. It is happy to give them an obligatory two weeks off to spend with their new bundle of joy; and then it hands it all back to the women, and lets the men get on with the all-important task of financially providing.

When I was heavily pregnant, daddy never had to sit in meetings and convince his clients that they should continue to work with him, and that his big life changes ahead weren’t going to make him any less capable of doing his job. He didn’t have to try and hide his growing, moving bump in important meetings, because he didn’t want his parental status to lead to him being judged for anything other this his wisdom and knowledge.

When you were born, he didn’t have to go to yet more important meetings three weeks after you were born and pretend to the client that he hadn’t just had major abdominal surgery or that his breasts weren’t heavy with milk because you needed feeding, just so the client didn’t decide on his behalf that he wasn’t capable of doing the work that he knew full well he could do with his eyes shut, if he was just given half a chance. In fact, no one ever questioned daddy’s ability to do his job, even after the most sleep-deprived of nights.

He didn’t have to endure his trusted childcare provider standing in his home and telling him he needed to “sort his priorities out” and that he needed to start putting his “daughter first, before his work” (even though it was this work that paid her wage!) when he said he didn’t have time for a conversation that could wait, because he needed to go to a hugely important meeting that was pivotal to his business; because you see, the thing is my baby girl, no one would ever say these things to a man.

No one would tell a man to give up his job – a job he loves and has worked so hard for – because he’s now become a dad. No one would ever punish a man for deciding to become a parent, or fill him with guilt for wanting to be anything more than a dad. No one would make decisions on how capable a man is on their behalf. You see, what I have learnt in running a business as a woman, and as a mother, is that you are held to standards that no man is ever held to. You are expected to jump through hoops that are so much higher.

This is why, my precious daughter, it is so important that I show you – but also all those I work alongside – just how skilful women are, and why they should never be underestimated in the workplace. For the women I employ, I want them to know that they too are capable of anything – and that motherhood isn’t a barrier to entry if they want to progress at any point. For the men, I want them to respect the women in their lives, and understand the sacrifices their partners are making if they’ve given up careers and passions to look after their children. I have nothing against stay-at-home parents – but I object to how women are often seen as “less than”, while their husbands do all the earning. This couldn’t be further from the truth; there’s a reason we otherwise have to pay for childcare. It’s a thankless full-time job!

I don’t have any end goals in sight; there’s nothing specific I’m trying to prove. It’s not about financial targets or materialistic gain – although I hope to provide you with a nice life. I just want to show you what is possible when we set our mind to something and keep an open outlook on what is possible. I know there are a lot of people who don’t approve of my actions, but when I see flashes of myself in your personality, I know I am doing the right thing.

You are so head-strong and feisty, refusing to do anything that you don’t already want to do yourself. You are curious and creative, focussed and persistent. You are smart – some of the things you can already do amazes me. You are determined, even if that makes you a challenging toddler sometimes. You love to read, just like I did, and could sit for hours pouring over your books. You have so much potential within you, just waiting to be unlocked over your years of learning and life. I want to set a match to that fire and help it burn, just as my mum did for me every time she taught me about ‘deferred gratification’. I just hope you never feel defined by being a woman.

For now, I will tuck you into bed and kiss your soft forehead goodnight. I’ll whisper to you that I love you, and that I’m sorry for not spending enough time with you. I’ll ask that you forgive me one day, and that you will always know how much I want to make you proud. I will wrap your tiny chubby hands around my fingers, just to feel your sleepy squeeze. And then I’ll go to bed, ready for work the next day, hoping one day… you’ll understand why.